Snapshot: the Niger River, our next door neighbor

Our family lives next to the Niger River. Literally, just on the other side of our compound walls, is about 25 yards of marshy riverbank leading up to the dike which keeps the waters of this principal river of West Africa from flooding our part of the city. And though I have mentioned this river many times, I imagine that most of you don’t know much about this important body of water.

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Photo credit: Deborah Knight. We call these the “pumpkin boats”, for obvious reasons.

The Niger River is the third longest river in all of Africa, coming in behind the Nile and Congo Rivers. (4,180 km or 2,597 mi long) It begins in the Guinea Highlands and flows into the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf of New Guinea.

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Image credit: wikipedia

The Niger river takes a highly unusual path through West Africa. Although it begins just 150 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, this important source of water flows inland. From there it flows north into Mali and then south through Niger, Nigeria and then eventually spilling into the Atlantic.

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Photo credit: Deborah Knight. These boys are walking through a riverside garden.

There are 36 families of freshwater fish and 250 species living in these waters, 20 of which are found nowhere else on earth but right here in the Niger River. For example, The West African Manatee, which now faces extinction, lives here.

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Photo credit: Nikki Gray. These un-friendly hippos live dangerously close to the city.

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Photo credit: Deborah Knight. Washing clothes in the river is common, though one must be on the lookout for those hippos!

For a country that is 80% desert, this river is a life-saving source of water! Some of you remember the flood of 2012, when the Niger River overtook it’s banks and displaced our family (as well as thousands of others!). That was the first damaging flood in 100 years, though every year, in August and September, those who live near the River’s edge are on “flood watch”.

So that is a little glimpse of our next-door neighbor, the Niger River. I hope you learned something new and interesting!

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photo credit: Deborah Knight

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Snapshot: Celebrating some “firsts”

Last week Andy and I had the privilege to teach a marriage seminar at the annual Bible camp for the Tamajaq people group. (I apologize for how blurry the photos are – our friend took most of these on his phone.)

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It was our first time to teach our marriage material to this group of people, and the first time to have our French words translated into the Tamajaq language. [Some of you are probably wondering where this took place – that is a pretty nice room for our seminar! In fact, the camp was taking place next door to this local NGO facility. They were kind enough to share their property with us for this purpose.]

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The seminar started sluggishly, but each day we managed to gain momentum, as well as attendees. The discussion times, in particular, were lively! God’s word is full of wonderful instructions for marriage, and it is always culturally relevant and powerful. For many of these people, it was the first time they had been taught what the Bible has to say about men, women, and marriage.

EOFU4504One other special part of this experience is that was the first time we had another couple as part of our team – our dear friends, S and F who are local christians! (picture below)

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We pray that the truth from the Bible about God’s plan for marriage would be freeing for these couples and singles!

Snapshot: Our Curriculum

“What are you teaching in your marriage class?”

This is a question we have received often these past few months. This past year we have combed through some texts in French and English to help us understand the core principles of marriage found in the Bible. Along with our informal research (conversations) with Nigerien christians, we think we have a foundational, Biblical and culturally relevant series of teachings.

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Of course, our current class is the first*! These four couples are our “guinea pigs”. We are calling it a pilot class, since these four couples have agreed to give us constructive feedback to help us improve the material. (*We have taught a few pre-marriage type classes to college-age groups, but this is our first class for married couples exclusively.)

The course includes six sessions, covering these topics:

  • The beginning – what is marriage?
  • Roles and responsibilities according to the Bible
  • Forgiveness
  • Resolving Conflict
  • Communication
  • Sexual Relations

Here are the main texts we have used, besides the Bible of course!

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The Complete Works of Walter Trobisch. This book by Walter Trobisch is in English so it is the easiest for us to work through! Walter and his wife Ingrid spent many years serving as missionaries in Cameroon, where they focused on marriage, family and sexuality topics.

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La Famille Chrétienne. This treasure was found almost by accident! Our director, as a passing thought, mentioned that he had a family Bible study he used years ago in a village. He found it, and voilà! We love it! Even though it is written for a village context, the topics are divided beautifully. And it is in French, which saves us the trouble of translating.

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Preparation Au Mariage. The Goerz were missionaries in Ghana with SIM. They are now retired and have graciously given us the freedom to use their pre-marriage training in totality. It is already translated to French (they worked in an English context) and is wonderfully thorough!

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Each class includes the teaching from both Andy and I, then the couples find a private place together to answer some questions for about 30 minutes. Finally, to end our time, we enjoy a small snack of croissants and fruit as we talk casually together. We hope to learn as much from them as they are learning from this class!

I hope this snapshot answers the “curriculum questions” for our curious friends. 🙂 If you have further questions, please feel free to email us.

(photo credit goes to our friend S*mana)

 

 

 

 

Snapshot: A new roof!

This project has been expected for many months (since October, to be exact!), and now it is truly happening. Our old house, owned by our mission SIM, was in need of a new roof.

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This will take up to four more weeks. I wish I could describe the actual building process in more detail for those of you who are construction-inclined. All I can say is that it is a slow and steady process, using cement and metal, and a tin roof.

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Meanwhile we are temporarily living in a small one-bedroom apartment on our compound. Yes, five humans and two cats in this little place is *interesting*. (smile)

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Please pray for grace and a good sense of humor while we go through this challenge amidst all of our other activities and responsibilities!

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A post from Ruth: Snapshot of the Baby Home

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My mom asked me to write about my experience at Baby Home. Baby Home is a baby orphanage (run by the government) where some of the middle school girls (and one high school girl) go on Friday afternoons after school. Each person has a selected baby that they play with and hold each time we go. This builds a relationship with the baby and the girl. I started going to Baby Home this summer. I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not. All of my friends enjoyed it, but I was pretty unsure. The first time I went, I held this little girl. She made me want to come back because she didn’t have someone to hold her. She is such a sweet little girl and I wouldn’t have enjoyed my first experience without her. Now I go every week, and I always look forward to going. I hold a little boy, who loves to laugh and is so funny. I’m so glad that I have been able to go and see all of the precious baby’s smiles when we come. Making a baby happy for a few hours makes me happy. It is a blessing to the babies, and to us. Even though the babies are so young, they are getting a full example of Jesus’ love for them. We love them and so does He.

Ruth is 12 and is in the 7th grade at Sahel Academy.

*Note from Nikki: the Baby home does not allow us to take photos inside since the infants will hopefully be adopted someday. (Otherwise there would be TONS of photos here because these little cuties are irresistible!) The babies arrive after being abandoned or brought in by family members. The goal is to have them adopted, and we have seen some of them leave to become part of their forever families! You can pray for these babies, and for Ruth and her friends, that God’s love will penetrate into these precious little hearts through the simple act of holding and caring for them. 

Le Français

One major aspect of our life here is the never-ending challenge of learning the french language. I know I’ve mentioned our language-learning so many times that I sound like a broken record.  But, truly, Andy and I have had to become accustomed to the fact that it is actually part of our job to simply talk to people!

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Here is Andy with his friend, S*mana. They meet about four times a week to discuss Bible stories, local issues, and share life.

We heard that it takes 7 years to become fluent in a new language. Wow! We still have a long way to go if that statistic is correct! However, now that we are “functional” and can pretty much make our way through most any conversation, it is tempting to want to stop learning and simply say “well, that’s good enough“. Our challenge is to keep going. Not give up. Press on!

Our goal is to teach and train others, which means we can’t stop learning. So we schedule regular meetings with our local friends to hang out and talk. We are thankful for the patience of our local friends here – we couldn’t do this without their help!

And the beautiful thing is that not only do we achieve a greater understanding of the language, we create friendships along the way.

 

Snapshot: Finding Rest

Finding a way to rest and relax here in Niamey is extremely difficult. Just try to imagine a city without lovely parks or quiet places to take long walks. Imagine a sprawling, dusty city without coffee shops where it is comfortable to simply relax and read a book or have a date. We live in a rather noisy, dirty city where you are always being watched (because you are white), and entertainment options are little to none.

But we realize that we still need to rest and be refreshed. The work we do here is difficult and stressful, so our bodies and spirits need respite. This is a snapshot about how we found a way to do this!

About two hours outside of the capital city of Niamey (where we live), there is a large recreational park, called “Parc W”. It borders the Niger River and boasts the only “safari-like” experience of this country.

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With our Christmas break being so long, we decided to venture away from the city for a few days for refreshment. A group of missionary friends came too – we were quite the international group! There were Americans (us), 2 Australian families, 1 Norwegian family, and 1 Korean family!

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Our entourage: Americans, Koreans, Norwegians and Australians!

If you have heard about African safaris, Parc W is nothing like that. Niger’s landscape and animals are quite different. (I’m including lots of pictures so you can get the idea.) Though this place is nothing that National Geographic will boast about, we found it beautiful, tranquil, and a true respite for our bodies and souls.

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Sunset on the Niger River

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Were were required by law to hire two guides as we drove through through the Parc. They would help us see wildlife, if there was any.

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This is where we stopped for a picnic.

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Ruth and Youna

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“Really mom, you want a picture right now?”

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A boat was needed to cross to the island where we were going to stay.

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We all fit! Amazing!

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Our guide was bailing water the entire time, though – a bit unsettling considering there are hippos everywhere!

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Did I say hippos? Well, we immediately met this group of hippos as we were on our way to the island!

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Arriving at the island, you can see a lovely patio, welcoming us to relax and enjoy ourselves.

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The eco-lodges, like this one, were interspersed throughout the island. They have two beds per unit, an eco-toilet and even a little shower! It certainly isn’t rugged camping…I think we can safely call it “glamping”. (fancy camping)

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This is the iconic Baobob tree – plentiful on this island.

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Exploring was fun for all of the kids!

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Serious climbers there 🙂

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Playing games for those who didn’t go on the hike that day.

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Our hostess, a woman from France, had this “Christmas tree” set up since we were there just days before Christmas. 

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Morning coffee and a delicious breakfast.

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Andy and I took a private boat ride for two hours one afternoon – just to enjoy the tranquility of the river and hopefully to see some animals.

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We didn’t actually see many animals, but we witnessed the quiet village life along the river.

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A lovely woman, taking care of her daily work.

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I managed to capture a shot of this little monkey!

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Here are the ladies, enjoying some conversation.

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Each night, we experienced a bonfire like no other! Our friend, Minsung, made it his goal to “wow” us with his fire-building skills!

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And finally, a family picture before we left the island.

We are so thankful for this getaway! We were blessed with the cool weather, great time with friends, and the peace of God in a truly dry and desolate country.

Snapshot: Our last-minute New Year’s Eve Party

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We hosted a last-minute party for New Year’s Eve – which is WAY out of character for us. (Usually we are in bed before midnight on December 31st!) It all happened so fast we didn’t have time to think about it carefully.

Our church called on the 29th.

Pastor Jeremie informed us that all the small groups were celebrating New Year’s together in their individual groups.

We, being brand new small group leaders for our neighborhood, were in charge of hosting a party.

Voila! A party must be planned.

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We quickly called the only two people we knew for sure were in our small group, and asked them to help (rescue) us.

They knew right away what was needed: text/call everyone, plan a snack to share at midnight, and make a plan for worship, prayer and a message.

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Here I am with Fanta, putting together the meat sandwiches which we were going to hand out at midnight. She did all the shopping and preparation and we simply paid for it. Her husband, Soumana, contacted everyone on the list. Andy planned for the “program”. I was just kinda stressed about having enough space in our little home!

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People started arriving at 10:00 p.m. (Don’t worry – Andy and I drank some coffee around 8!) And I am happy to say that everything went quite well. We met so many new people and it gave us fresh excitement about leading the weekly small group.

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The party died down around 1:00 a.m. and we crashed! Who knew that these Nigeriennes would bring out the party animals in us?

We pray that your New Year 2018 is off to a great start! God bless you!

Christmas Love

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Sending our Christmas love to you from this side of the world! Thank you for being a part of our life here through your love and encouragement. We are sustained by the love of Jesus for all of us, and by our relationships with you.

We pray that you will experience the joy of His Presence during the holidays. We love you!

Love, Andrew, Nikki, Nathaniel, Jonathan and Ruth

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Snapshot: Women!

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I have always loved being part of groups of women. Living in Niger, building relationships with local people is one of our major goals during this first year, so I knew that finding the groups of women would be an important way for me to culturally integrate.

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Our church has a group of women who meet on Saturdays – they call themselves “Les Femmes Vertueuses” (which means, “the Virtuous women”), taken from the well-known passage in Proverbs 31 in the Bible.

This group was really intimidating for me to join, mainly because my conversational French was still so terrible last summer that I simply didn’t think I could do it! But deep in my heart I just knew I was supposed to go, as if it was an open door from the Lord for me to walk through. So I swallowed my pride and fear, and I went.

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What I found was a beautiful group of very eclectic ladies, who all desire to be excellent as wives, mothers, and daughters. Some are well-educated and well-dressed, and others are poor and simple. Some are outgoing and some are shy. Some have pain on their countenance, while others seem indefatigable.

They are usually at least 30 minutes late – even the leader of the group! – (though they won’t change the starting time). Our meetings include singing songs in both French and Hausa, sharing a bit from God’s word, and praying. These ladies are champions! They’ve been patient, kind, and opened their arms to allow me to be part of their special group.

One major milestone happened in August. We had been practicing the same song quite a bit for a few weeks, and one day the ladies started talking about “the wedding”. I came to find out that we were going to sing this song at the wedding! Wow! And I found out that we needed to have special outfits made to match (husbands’ outfits too! See photo), and that they really wanted me to sing one of the solos.

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Wait, what? I am not afflicted with false modesty when I say that my singing days are over, at least in the solo sense! I was not looking forward to this! I tried to get out of it, but they were so excited and I think they really wanted me to feel “in”, so I said yes.

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(Picture above is our last-minute rehearsal before the wedding)

Well, the wedding just happened to be the wedding of the decade in Niamey! About 400 people were there! (That is  a huge wedding around here!) I was really scared! But I just prayed for courage and WENT FOR IT. (You can view the unbearably long video here if have nothing to do for 8 minutes! My part in the song doesn’t happen until about 2/3 through…)

This wedding experience truly broke through the proverbial ice in my relationships with the ladies. Now, they affectionately call me “la Blanche” (the white woman), and I am part of the choir. My conversational French has grown leaps and bounds as well!

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Last week, the ladies asked Andy and I to teach one night of their two-night “Annual Celebration of Women”. The theme was “building healthy families” and it was truly an honor to receive this invitation. (The other speaker was the president of all of the Christian churches in Niger!) We shared the basic principles of building a healthy Christian marriage, and everything went so well.

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I am amazed. I look back on this experience – breaking through my fears, following through when I felt led to do something, and seeing the rewards – and I am truly humbled. Courage and obedience are a powerful combination.

Is there something YOU have been hesitant to do? Why not step out and trust those deep-down instincts, and perhaps God has some surprise blessings for you!